This Thursday, March 31, features the most anticipated Organized Play announcement in quite a while. I couldn’t find the exact timing of it, but I believe it should be announced on the twitch.tv/magic weekly stream, which shows me that it goes live at 2:30 p.m. Pacific time, if I’m getting the time zones right.
Recently, the changes have not been kind to the competitive players. The Pro Tour has been discontinued and a large part of its history has been quite literally deleted (you can’t even access your own play history anymore). Even the Hall of Fame hasn’t had an inductee in a couple years now.
It’s probably fair to say that the MPL project did not work out. It was great for the people on the inside, who finally got to experience what life of a real professional gamer might be like, but the people on the outside rightfully disliked it because there didn’t really seem to be a reasonable way in and there wasn’t really any other program they could participate in either. There were many factors that led to its poor viewership and why it failed to attract the interest of large esports organizations and sponsors.
The MPL and Rivals leagues are being shut down this year, and with COVID putting a stop to live events for a while, all Wizards is offering to its large competitive player base at the moment are three Arena Set Championships per year. Considering how many people play Magic, this certainly isn’t ideal.
William “Huey” Jensen recently moved from playing as a professional and creating content for us here at ChannelFireball to working for Wizards as the Director of Play Programs. We don’t actually know what exactly this program means yet, but I’m hoping that he brings a different and fresh perspective to the team that works on competitive play programs.
Here’s what I’m hoping to see in the announcement.
Bring Back the Pro Tour
The Pro Tour has a very strong brand and for 20-something years, it was the pinnacle of Organized Play. It created the game’s biggest stars and most memorable moments and by combining Constructed and Limited, it was the ultimate test of your Magic skills
I don’t have access to the data Wizards have, and maybe it’s not even something that you can easily quantify, but I have a feeling that some of the decision makers might be underrating the “Pro Tour Dream” and how much it sells their product without really showing where it’s coming from.
I have a lot of friends who play Magic casually. They like to draft, play Commander and occasionally draft a Cube. Most of them have some Modern decks, but they have very little interest in the recent Standard or Historic metagame trends. They don’t play competitively – they play to have fun, hang out with their friends and have a drink or two while drafting the newest set and chatting about life. But most of them still have the dream of playing at the Pro Tour once. Every time there was a close GP, they would put together a car or two and drive hours and hours to play the main event and try to qualify for the Pro Tour. They would spend countless hours buying booster boxes of the new set and playing Sealed pools against each other, talking about the right ways to build their decks, drafting more in person and on Magic Arena, watching streams and reading articles about the format. I’m sure most of you either know a group like that or are in one.
For me, the best part about the Pro Tour was always the traveling, which was also what sold Magic to me when I started playing. If you tell your non-gamer friends you’re playing this interesting strategy card game, they will probably just shrug and ask you if it’s something like Hearthstone or Counter-Strike. Now if you tell them that you just went to a qualifier tournament and won a plane ticket to Honolulu/Paris/Tokyo/Sydney, where you’ll get to play against the world’s best players, and that the first place prize is $50,000, I can guarantee you will have their attention.
Just the idea of playing on the Pro Tour made so many players passionate about Magic. People were willing to drive 10 hours to 500-plus person PTQs with just one PT slot for the winner. Bring the PT back and let them compete for their dream.
Create a System That Makes Sense and Stick to It
The Pro Tour system was very easy. You could qualify by winning a PTQ, by Top 8ing a GP, requalify by being one of the top finishers at the previous PT or by having a high level in the OP system. Very simple stuff that you could explain to someone who doesn’t even know what Magic is.
At some point, things took a chaotic turn, highlighted by stuff like Play Points or a Pro Point system that even the professional players who live and breathe Magic just couldn’t comprehend. The system was so bad that we were relying on fan-made spreadsheets to tell us what benefits we would have at the next Pro Tour or if we would even be qualified for the one after that.
I’m not sure what caused this, perhaps some structural changes in the company, perhaps new decision makers, but everything would change seemingly every six or 12 months. There would be new, overcomplicated point systems, new tournament names and new ways to qualify. This is far from ideal.
I would like to see a simple, performance-based system that would make everyone excited about getting to participate in, from possibly qualifying to your first Pro Tour all the way to Worlds, with some benefits for consistently doing well and a reasonable way to requalify.
As for the prizes, you can try to be creative to make sure everyone leaves the biggest tournaments with something valuable. Ideally, you would want to pay for everyone’s plane ticket for the PT-like events or have a nice money prize, even for last place, but that’s a huge ask for the budget. I would try to see something like giving each of the qualified players some special foil for participating in the tournament. Imagine printing 500 special art Polluted Deltas and giving one to each person playing the PT during registration. Or a Brainstorm, Swords to Plowshares, Thoughtseize or just about anything that you can use in Commander, Cube or Legacy that every collector would go crazy for. Considering how big part of the game collecting and special products are, I’m sure if you wanted to sell your card, it would easily pay for your plane ticket or more.
Keep it simple, but most importantly, create a system that you are willing to stick to for more than a year. WotC had quite a long time now to come up with one, so I’m hopeful. Make the whole world feel included in this system, not just the United States.
Bring Back the Hall of Fame and Honor Its Benefits
The last person inducted into the Hall of Fame was Reid Duke in 2019. After that, we were told that they would be taking a year off because of COVID, and that we would see a new Hall of Fame in 2021.
This was posted in an Esports Update article on August 27, 2020.
“So we’re taking this year off from inductions to construct a new Hall of Fame, one that encompasses not just competitive play, but all of Magic—including its innovators, contributors, and longtime stewards. Like each year’s Hall of Fame discussion, we know you’ll have thoughts and feedback for creating the new-look hall, so stay tuned: in 2021 a new Magic Hall of Fame is coming.”
It is now 2022 and we haven’t heard anything about it since, which is really unfortunate and sad because celebrating Magic’s rich and long history and honoring its best players always seemed like a really exciting part of the game.
Back in the days, the Pro Tour had only about 200 to 300 players. The ultimate Hall of Fame benefit was the promise of being qualified for every Pro Tour forever.
I can only speak for myself, but along with the exciting travel aspect, this was the main reason why I kept playing so many tournaments, going to GPs on the other side of the world, collecting Pro Points and trying my hardest to stay at the highest level of the game. A few extra years of grinding with some excellent results, clean sheet and you would never have to worry about having to qualify for the Pro Tour again.
Then the game got bigger and bigger and all of the sudden, every PT started having 400 to 500 qualified players. This came with logistic issues and as a result, WotC started trying to figure out how to keep the numbers in check.
One can only speculate if this was the reason, but around this time, we started seeing new names for the PT-like tournaments. Mythic Championship, Players Tour, Set Championship… and the Hall of Fame benefits just simply disappeared.
I’m obviously going to sound a bit biased, but in my opinion, renaming the tournaments so you can deny the hard-earned Hall of Fame invites is not a very fair thing to do. It’s not the players’ fault that the game keeps growing and more and more players want to play and qualify for the Pro Tour-like tournaments.
The worst part about this to me was always that most of the Hall of Fame players were actually already qualified for everything anyway so they wouldn’t really be creating some extra slots in the tournament.
PV, LSV, William Jensen, Gabriel Nassif, Reid Duke, Seth Manfield, Shouta Yasooka, Kai Budde, Ben Stark, Lee Shi Tian – do these names sound familiar to you? That’s because all those players are playing in the MPL/Rivals Leagues already and were always at the top of the OP structures anyway (except for Huey, whose working at WotC now).
I would like to see WotC “reopen” the Hall of Fame with a 2022 induction and find a way to honor the benefits that were promised to people who spent a large part of their life chasing after them. These players were promised something completely different than skipping Day 1 of an Arena Qualifier.
Find a different way to keep the numbers in check and fix this.
As soon as the COVID situation allows, I’m hoping to start seeing lots of Magic Fests again. Whether you’re a competitive player, a casual player or a collector, there are so many ways to enjoy yourself at one of these Magic Fests. You can meet your favorite pros and content creators, cosplayers, play the main event and try to (hopefully) qualify for a PT, casually hang out at the Commander area, play some cool side events, trade cards or have your cards signed by artists.
For many, these are all great reasons to go to a Magic Fest and have fun. Personally, as a competitive player, the biggest attraction for me was the chance of getting valuable Pro Points in the main event that I could use to get some good benefits in the organized play system and for many others, it was the chance to finish in the Top 8 and qualify for the Pro Tour.
I’m hoping we will see Magic Fests in one way or another again and that they will offer as much for the competitive players as for the casual ones. I would love to see the Top 8 of the main event getting to qualify for the PT-like events again.
Magic will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year. 30 years. Sorry for the bold, but let that sink in for a moment. The game and play designers are doing such an incredible job that the game hasn’t just survived for this long, it keeps growing and growing, which is honestly mind-blowing to me. I’m grateful that the game we chose to play is so complex, fun and creative and that the people working on it keep finding ways to make it fresh and fun.
For the 25th anniversary, WotC gave us a Team Pro Tour and a series of five anniversary GPs across the world with special prizes and side events – Las Vegas, Singapore, Barcelona, São Paulo, Chiba. The tournaments were huge with a lot of special guests and events. To this day, I’m using the main event Black Lotus playmat as a mat for my computer mouse and every time I look at it, I recall all the cool memories of playing in the Beta Draft.
If you’re a fan of competitive play, cross your fingers with me for the announcement tomorrow and tune in to www.twitch.tv/magic at 2:30 p.m. Pacific. I’m really hoping they came up with something good!